I’d Like You to Know
Identity and Awareness
Mentoring and Support
Spirituality and Religion
Spokane in Perspective
Younger people, and even some of the older folks who came out later, really don’t appreciate how radical the Clintons were in moving things forward. I remember the Logo TV station did a presidential candidates forum with the candidates who were running in 2008. [Melissa Etheridge] basically ripped into Hillary [Clinton]: “Why should we vote for you, because the last time a Clinton was in the White House, you threw us under the bus with DOMA,” and stuff. I thought how hypocritical that question was, because I think the only thing the Clintons were guilty of was underestimating the degree of homophobia in the country at the time.
I think Clinton would not have ever put DOMA forward had it not been for the climate. He realized, “I’ve got to throw the other side a bone.” I think he was still thinking, like many people, “The best we’re ever going to get are domestic partnerships, so what does this marriage thing matter?” Same with the gays in the military. If he had his way, he would’ve fulfilled his campaign promise and lifted the ban, but “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a step forward. I get frustrated when we go back and try to revise history and judge people by today’s standards back then. I mean, Jimmy Carter is one of my favorite human beings who’s held office. Yet back in the ‘70s, he supported measures to revoke security clearances for LGBT folks. Today he’s one of our strongest allies. We have to remember that all of us, including those of us who come out, evolve. So, I’m very protective of that period, because having lived with the Reagan/Bush stuff . . .
I really sensed, Clinton put these conversations into the American vocabulary that we were not having. I mean, gays in the military? That would’ve never happened publicly in prior administrations. So that whole era . . . I have just a sense of nostalgia and appreciation, because you could really feel society beginning to change.
The ripples of that—that an American president can support those issues—are huge. They ripple out into these small communities. You can talk about the president, senator, or movie star, and say, “I agree with them.” And still, to some degree, hide or protect yourself in the conversation.
I think [Spokane is] changing. It would be unfair for me to hold up advances made in places like Denver, or Los Angeles, and say Spokane isn’t changing because they haven’t achieved these things. I think the change has been pretty radical by Spokane’s standards.
Some people might say it’s cynical, but Spokane marches to its own drumbeat. In terms of using words like “progress,” they’re defined differently in Spokane than they are in other places. I would hate to interject a different cultural model. I think Spokane really thinks it’s changing. Its defeat of the effort to repeal the city ordinance [on LGB equality]—that was a huge thing. That was a big step forward.
It will be interesting to see what the numbers look like on the marriage referendum this fall . It would be interesting to look at a detailed analysis, because most people who don’t know politics will just look at like big picture, like the City of Spokane or Spokane County results in relation to others. If I were here, I would look and say, “Spokane’s progressed if it’s”—even I’d say, a 55-45 split—and that there is pockets of support not just in the South Hill and the places you would expect. If you could look at the northwest portion of this 6th District, for instance, which is about 80 percent Republican and, if we could see support levels into the 40 percent [range], that would be a victory that could tangibly say things are beginning to shift. I don’t want to just say, “Pie in the sky, 20 years have passed, we’re more likely to sing ‘Kumbaya’ together, and so I think it’s getting better.” I tend to be someone who measures social progress by tangible indicators.
Dean Lynch’s service [as the first openly-gay man on] the city council was another helpful piece. But then, the party’s refusal to really support or get behind him when he was up for election—you could interpret that experience in more than one way. So, I hope [Spokane] is [changing], and I think there is some evidence that it is, but we’ll see.
You know, cynically, I’d have to say [there actually hasn’t been much change in Spokane since I left], because some of the breakthroughs that happened, like the beginning of an [LGBT] community center and the Odyssey program, those really date to the early ‘90s and mid-[‘90s]. They’ve been around for 20 years. We haven’t really gone much further in that regard.
One way that I think we’ve got further—but it’s going to actually sound like it’s a backwards—the mechanisms for the closeted portions of the population have actually grown much bigger. Whether it’s craigslist or social sites where you can chat, there are now ways for people to meet each other and to have lives under the radar.
Some of the ways it was easier [to be gay when I was growing up] was because the issues weren’t talked about at all. I think I was called a “fag” once my freshman year in high school and it was at football practice. It was more just a generic sort of insult. It was maybe used with other folks who were more identifiable in some ways, but that wasn’t something in the consciousness as a whole. Whereas today, because the issues are so front and center, a lot of the kids who are not ready to even wrestle with it, are forced to deal with it. In that way, it’s harder now.[However,] it was much harder back then because there were no resources to turn to—none. No Odyssey [Youth Group]. No . . . None. [Not] even family. Maybe a physician or something. But no. You wouldn’t ask your pastor. You wouldn’t ask teachers. There was no support mechanisms. None. That’s obviously much harder. Lack of resources is harder then. It’s easier now because of resources. But it’s harder now because of the awareness and visibility.
I still remember in those days, with the Spokesman Review and other papers, if someone was arrested, the titles [of articles] still were like “gay man arrested for molestation,” or whatever. Yet they would never say, “heterosexual man arrested for molestation.” Things like that. My mom and I used to have a lot of intense conversations about why they were so biased in portrayals and how that reinforced things.
It is more helpful to have more visible role models these days to say, “I can run for political office. I can be a rock or TV star. I can do anything.” But back then, the thing that kept people in the closets were your life would be over if you came out—your life as you know it. And you had no other image of what life would replace it. None.
Sources: Interview with Maureen Nickerson, [December 2006?]; transcribed by Maureen Nickerson and Laura S. Hodgman; edited by Laura S. Hodgman; held at the Northwest Museum for Arts and Culture. Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 21 August 2012; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman.